'Monument Preservation can give economic impulse'

June 2004 -

How do you bring culture into development cooperation? This was the central theme of the lunch meeting organised by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs on 19 May 2004. The KIT Tropenmuseum presented its own experience from actual practice in Africa and Asia.

The gap between the arts and development cooperation forced the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to formulate a special culture policy for developing countries early in the 1990s. This ministry spends some 6.5 million euros each year on stimulating the cultural identity and promoting understanding between cultures by supporting the arts in the South.

One of the major implementers of the ministry's culture and development policy is the KIT Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam. Developing countries hang at the very bottom of the UNDP Human Development Index, the standard index used to measure human development and to compare countries. The KIT believes that these countries are rich, however, in terms of cultural heritage. If that wealth is efficiently utilised, development can be initiated.

Susan Legêne is head of Museum Affairs at the KIT. During a lunch meeting organised by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in May 2004, she said: 'In the past, preservation of monuments was not supported in developing countries. This has changed. Preservation of monuments can bring an economic impulse through the increased tourism it generates.'

The KIT Tropenmuseum sees itself as an 'estate agent' that brings funds to the attention of museums in the South and connects networks. The museum also got the Object ID project off to a start; this is a registration standard for museum collections making it easier to trace stolen works of art. Culture in development must integrate even more in future projects. For example, the KIT Tropenmuseum is involved in the establishment of a cultural centre in Sintang, Indonesia, intended to prevent conflicts between the various groups of the population.

The forum during the lunch meeting concluded that in general, culture and development are two worlds that have difficulty bonding. This is because they are often considered to be two separate worlds.